Three of my favorite films of 2016 are poised to pick up Oscar nominations later this month and each of them are character-driven stories bolstered by fantastic performances from some of today’s best actors and actresses. Here are three picks for some smaller-scale films I recommend seeing if you get the chance.
Hell or High Water features knockout work from Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and the always reliable Jeff Bridges. Pine and Foster are brothers living in poverty in West Texas who begin robbing banks to save their family farm. Bridges plays the gruff, soon-to-be-retired Texas ranger hot on their trails.
This is so much more than your typical heist film. The characters are fully-realized, complicated people struggling to get by in a world that seems to have left them behind. From the lead actors to the smallest extra, everyone feels real and despite some characters being wholly unlikable, their motivations are completely understandable.
Another film about family loyalty in a setting that seems all too realistic is Manchester by the Sea. This film will especially resonate with New Englanders as it is a pitch-perfect representation of the region and it’s residents.
Casey Affleck delivers by far his best performance yet as a janitor with a troubled past forced to return home to care for his nephew following the death of his brother. As we learn more about Affleck’s character and the life he lived with his then-wife played by Michelle Williams, we slowly understand his heartbreak and the reason for his pain.
Manchester by the Sea is emotionally exhausting at times, but also quite funny as well. It manages to balance so many tones while remaining consistently believable and relatable all the way through.
And finally, one of the greatest actors of his generation also directs this intimate story of an African American family living in 1950’s Pittsburgh in Fences. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis turn in commanding, incredible performances in a film based on an award winning play of the same name.
It’s a very small-scale film as it’s structured like a play, with characters talking in the backyard, then in the kitchen, and out on the porch. It may not sound exciting, but the dialogue, performances, and characters are so richly crafted, you can’t help but get emotionally invested.
Fences and Manchester by the Sea are still in theaters, and you catch Hell or High Water on some streaming platforms as well as DVD and blu ray.